Tag Archive / IxDA

  • (How) Geocaching Taught Me To Visualize Information

    (Originally published on CDG Interactive/Innate blog)

    Earlier this year I attended the IxDA Interaction 11 conference in Boulder, Colorado, one of most important in the field of interaction design. At this conference, I’m both an observer of the field and a student, gleaning ideas I can use to improve my own skills.

    In my three years of attendance, I’ve learned that interaction design is not just about building products — it’s also about how to visualize information. One of my jobs is taking HTML/CSS code and making the content not only visible but easily accessible to the user. At a time when massive amounts of data are freely available, finding ways to making information not only understandable but also easier to use and manage has become its own field of study.

    Making Information Visual

    So what does “visualizing information” mean? For example, take a basic weather map we see on the local evening news. Apart from the physical location and geographical borders, information about air pressure and temperature are shown in graphics, instead of a straight list of numbers and statistics. This same information is given some sort of context (work, travel, agriculture) for viewing. From this, we make judgments about what activities we want to do at a certain time period (going to work, growing crops, flying on vacation).

    We can use maps to overlay any information we want, depending on what we need or want to do. But one use of a map is something that we have been doing since childhood: using a map with information to find something.

    And that’s just what I did at IxDA in Boulder. Each year’s conference has a different twist, depending on the location. Home to The University of Colorado, Celestial Teas and a growing tech/design area, Boulder is nestled near the Rockies and has a reputation as being eco-friendly. Well, when looking at the list of Friday activities, I found one that caught my attention: Geocaching: Treasure Hunt.

    The “Treasure Hunt”

    Geocaching is a hide-and-seek game where finders use GPS units or GPS-enable mobile phones to find caches. These caches are containers that have various items inside. They can be as large a small Tupperware case. Or they could be micro caches, which can be as small as a 35mm film canister. Either one, these are located in publicly accessible areas and are hidden from view. However, the owner of a cache will leave some clues (text, title name, or images) for the finder to locate it. Of course, having a GPS unit does not mean it will be easy to find. If you have ever used one, you know that there is a certain range of accuracy depending on the signal and location.

    Occasionally, these caches will have a travel bug, a type of GPS-enabled tag with a unique ID that the finder/owner can move to any location and place inside another cache. Once the cache has been found, the finder must leave something of equal/higher value in the cache, especially if something is taken from it. The finder marks that she/he found the cache via paper/app/website and replaces the cache in the exact spot for others to find.

    Hmmm. Hide and seek with GPS tools. Exercise with actual pay off. Sign me up!

    Following lunch on Friday, the group got together. I was matched up with Jill, one of the advisors, due to the fact that we both we the only ones in the group who had Android phones. (BTW…interaction designers luv iPhones. Just an observation… ) I downloaded an app (there are a number of apps for iPhone and Android) beforehand and played around prior to the trip. It also helps if you have the latest upgrade of Google Maps on your phone with navigation abilities.

    We traveled to an area in Boulder where we separated into three groups. The group I was in located a micro cache about 0.7 miles north and we walked down some streets to the location. This was located in a parking lot (caches need to be in a public place). The GPS trackers got to about a couple of feet nearby. However, it had snowed a few days prior and the parking lot was covered in snow mounds about a few feet thick. I tried digging with gloves to see if I could find it but to no avail. Everyone searched around the area but no luck. Considering the area was still snowbound and we were finding a small micro cache, we decided to search for another one.

    Looking at the geocaching app, we found another micro cache only a few meters away north. Unfortunately, we came up empty again – a snowbound area with little clue to finding it.

    We decided to move to another one, this time a regular sized cache. This one was about 0.3mi west from our present location. Crossing streets and more parking lots later, we finally got to the location. Many of us recognized the location because of the clue given in the title. Like I mentioned before, the GPS only gives you a close proximity to the location; you still have to figure out where it actually is. Another clue pointed to its actual location. That’s easy enough.

    Well, almost. Now, you have to try to get it out. Remember, these caches were not meant to be easy to find in the first place…

    Finding the Prize

    The tallest of the group reached in and pulled out the prize – one round metal candy tin. After a few hours of searching and coming up with the third choice, needless to say we were all ecstatic (judging from the group picture afterwards). Then we opened our prize.

    Caches contain any sort of object left over from the previous finders or owner. (There are rules to what can or cannot be put there). This one had a simple log book, with list of names and dates, referring when the cache was discovered. One of the more interesting items is a small tale/story in two small pieces of paper, folded in the cache. It also had a squashed penny. This cache had a travel bug, which was taken by our advisor to be placed in another cache. As the custom, we had to put something back into the cache. A few items were put into the cache from other but someone shouted out “Does anyone have a coin?” I had some Canadian coins on me and threw in a “toonie” or a 2-dollar Canadian coin into the cache.

    [By mentioning this, everyone here in the Innate office will automatically reply “Of course, he has one!” Needless to say, I take a lot of trips to Canada.]

    Well after the celebration and signing of the small log book, everything was sealed up and the cache was place back in the same location before. The adviser marked the find on the site, along with the items that we placed in the cache.

    Mission completed. Smiles but tired walking back to the bus and then back to the hotel. For me, the day was complete.

    Now, when I work with information and its display, I’ll remember the connections between data and discovery that are made when geocaching.

    P.S. I mentioned the travel bug earlier. Beforehand, it was revealed that one of goals, besides finding the caches, was to have at least one of the travel bugs moved bit-by-bit to the location of the next conference – Interaction 12 in Dublin, Ireland in February 2012. If this one makes it, it will no doubt be very well received.

    For more information

    Your turn:

    • Have you ever been geocaching?
    • What are your favorite examples of interaction design?
    • How about visualization of information?
  • Wanderlust : February 2011

    Sorry for the month delay in blog entries but it’s been a non-stop rollercoaster of travel and events.

    Here is the shortlist of what happened in after the last blog entry and a few important things happening this month:

    WordPress DC Town Hall with founder Matt Mullenweg

    1.31.2001 – Washington, DC

    This event happened at Fathom Creative, down the road from CDG Interactive.  It was well attended and the sponsor even got an internet stream for online viewing and questions.  Matt was really relaxed, calm guest who talked about how WordPress was started (at the heart, WordPress started as a image gallery) and answered plenty of questions about it, running a business, some things in the works/future as well as what could be better. I asked about how it was doing in the mobile world and got the surprising answer (700% in two years! – with apps in almost every mobile platform).

    IxDA Interaction 11

    2.9-12.2011 – Boulder, CO

    Decided to arrive early to this conference (third time for me) to relax in Boulder and get to a workshop for the first time. However, I fell ill Tuesday morning and spent the following 24-48 hours in bed.  Missed the workshop but attended the full conference. I even got to attend an after-party on the first night (it was definitely an experience, especially the music and its location inside the Boulder Theatre). This conference was well attended and did not disappoint, concluding with the keynote speech from Bruce Sterling (design critic as well as sci-fi writer).

    All the keynotes as well as the individual lightning lectures were all interesting in one way or another.  However, the tone, in my perspective as a developer, was different in that were was more of a focus internally than the last two years. Whereas I was more in sync in the last two (especially with mobile coming up big during this duration), this was more internal than anything else.

    One of new additions to this conference was a day for design-related activities. In my case, it was geocaching, where I spend a few hours in the streets of Boulder playing hide-and-go-seek for hidden treasures. (Thankfully, I was well by then!)

    I will be doing a CDG blog entry on my geocaching adventure later on this month.

    Oh, BTW…it snowed 3-5” and went from single digits (Tuesday) to 60s (Sunday) in one week.

    You thought DC had crazy weather!

    Nixon in China

    2/19-20, 2011 – NYC, NY

    I packed bags again the following weekend, for a trip to NYC for The Met’s presentation of John Adams’ 1987 opera Nixon in China. I last heard this opera on CD a decade ago in college but the performance did not disappoint. Well sung by all the performers and John Adams (who conducted his own work) got a standing ovation.

    What was interesting about the opera, apart from the music, was the whole scenery. As a person who grew up during the last glimmer of the Cold War, some of the scenes were familiar from all the news broadcasts during this time (you know, when you only had TV and print).  The opening scene of the Nixons stepping out of the plane matched the videotape footage to a point where it was eerie.  Of course, the big irony, particularly those in the audience, is how much has changed in the almost 30 years that meeting.  As a point, during a scene in the second act, Pat Nixon was presented with a jade elephant. The official near her remarked "We can make hundreds of them cheaply!", which was followed with laughter (with a tinge of irony) from the audience.

    The second act ended with the agitprop play (the music the basis for a Adams’ stand-alone work The Chairman Dance), which really reminds someone of my age about the old Socialist/Communist displays in the 80’s, or more recently, in North Korea. Of course, the big irony is that so much of that change would start two years later.

    Leaving memory lane, I spent a quiet following day listening to three Shostakovich quartet (11th, 12th, and 15th) and Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, Op. 133 at Bargemusic with the St.Petersburg Quartet. Back home on Monday (President’s Day).

    And that was my month of February.

    Will be returning to NYC for two concerts:

    • March 26 – NY Philharmonic/Avery Fisher Hall for Bartok’s 1st Piano Concerto
      — I will be able to say that I have heard all three concertos live – 3rd in DC/NSO (2005) and 2nd in Boston/BSO (2007)
    • April 16 – Met Opera for Berg’s Wozzeck
      — Heard Berg’s other opera Lulu last year

    Hopefully, things will slightly quieter further in the year.

    Later (multiple crossing of digits…)

  • EOY

    Early morning from hotel window, Vancouver, Canada - 12/31/2010

    As I am writing this, I am looking at a fabulous view from my hotel room in what some of my friends call my second home of Vancouver, Canada. Part of me needed to get away to here do some end-of-the-year evaluation and some focused thinking about 2011. Then again, I allowed myself to relax a bit during these last days of 2010 (and I watched the Canucks beat the Flyers 6-2 Tuesday night at the home area…)

    But there are some things that occurred during the year that I need to mention before the final ball drop closes the year 2010:


    If you had asked me at the start of the year if I was going to start fencing again, it would have been a firm “NO.” There was no motivation to start again and no one was really asking to do so. And all the focus that I had with fencing went into my work, which paid off big. Irony, the only people who ever asked about me starting up again were my co-workers at CDG.

    Well, after two years, I decided to try fencing again. It has been the only sport that I have some liking to. Not to mention, the least likely to get bored at.

    Another bit of irony is that I restarted with Olde Town Fencing, the club I left almost four years ago. Despite that, the warming response made the comeback easier. Definitely a reminder of why I fence in the first place.

    Despite dealing with various injuries the last month, I am determined to continue my progress and actually compete again after a 2+ year absence.


    This year:

    • Savannah, Georgia (IxDA Interaction 10)
    • NYC for opera (The Nose and Lulu) and design (Cooper-Hewitt)
    • Seattle/Canada (Victoria and Vancouver I)
    • For my first time, travel outside the Americas with FOWA/London
    • Of course, Vancouver for end-of-the-year

    For next year:

    • Boulder, Colorado for IxDA Interaction 11 (February 9-12, 2011)
    • NYC for opera with Nixon in China (Adams) and Wozzeck (Berg)

    Project Charles

    Basically, stops and starts. At one point, it was dead in the water. At one point, I almost considered ending the project. However, I caught a break (and some motivation from Tame Impala’s InnerSpeaker album) and did the complete site mockups. Started to work on the HTML templates but delayed due to technical review from the last two conferences I went to. Both made me think about what I was doing and in the end, the decision to make some more substantial changes in my work.

    Restarting work on templates in early 2011 and hopefully finishing the new site by The Wilson Project’s 10th anniversary in April.


    High point was three conferences:

    • IxDA Interaction 10 in Savannah, Georgia
    • An Event Apart a few blocks from my office in Washington, DC
    • FOWA in London, UK

    Lots of work, punctuated with four blog entries and some other minor additions to the blog.

    However, lots of reflection on my work process, especially considering many of the changes that affected my position as a UI/Front-end developer.

    But more about that in the next entry in this blog…


    In the end, I remember about ten years ago that I started what would become a 20-month unemployment period. Now, at the end of 2010, thing have changed so much. A number of things that I first experimented with such as XHTML and building pages without table layouts are now not only accepted; they have become the gold standard.

    Now, with Project Charles heading for the finish line (?) in April 2011, more changes are in the pipeline for the next couple of years. Hopefully, 2011 will be a good one, not only for me, but for my family, friends, and especially my co-workers at CDG.

    Happy New Year 2011 from Vancouver, Canada!

  • News On The Homefront


    NYC IxDA Redux

    A big belated “Thank You” to IxDA New York for Interaction 10 Redux (3/6). It was nice to meet all the people who attended and to see all of the presentations that I missed at Savannah.  Would come back for another event hosted by the group if my schedule allow it.

    Of course, that means I have to start paying attention to the home IxDA branch as well.

    More Opera

    Ironically enough, after NYC IxDA Redux, I went back to New York for my scheduled vacation for Met’s performance of The Nose. This weekend, went back to The Met for Lulu, the Alban Berg opera composed a few years after The Nose. Same decade, different moods but both are considered some of the most avant-garde works of their time. This was the last performance for me this season. Already planning for attending two performances next season in 2011 — John Adam’s Nixon in China and Alban Berg’s Wozzeck.


    If you have not noticed, the font has changed in this site. After the font change last year, I decided to re-evalute my choice and changed to the first choice of Futura. I like Super Grotesk and it was choosen because of its closeness to Futura. However, there were just some things that I felt were not right (weight, letter styles) for me. It was nagging me in the back of my mind for a few months. So I decided to go back to the first choice of Futura.

    I am still on the look out for any other Futura-like fonts but the right choice has been made right now.

    Recent Blog Entry for CDG

    Last week, finally completed a book review of Morville/Callender ‘s Search Pattern for CDG and posted on the blog. Interesting read and really changed my ideas about search engines and how search result can be displayed for easier use.

    I mentioned on Twitter (5/4) that this would be my blog for CDG for the next couple of months as I will be spending writing for this blog. A consquenence will be some important announcements about The Wilson Project and Project Charles, as well as some important blog entries.